Squaresoft was the company to beat in the 1990s and early 2000s. Honestly speaking, they could do no wrong in the eyes of many. Every single game they made set the bar for the JRPG genre. Final Fantasy 6/7, Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, the original Kingdom Hearts, the list just goes on and on. Sometimes I wonder, has Square Enix done the same?
At this point, it sounds like I’m a bitter nostalgic fanboy that hates everything new. Maybe that’s true, who knows. All I can say is that while I have no nostalgia for any of these games, only playing them over the last 2 or 3 years, there is no denying the quality of these games. My favourite of the bunch, and also my favourite overall game is Chrono Cross. To me, Chrono Cross represents everything I love about Squaresoft games; the attention to detail, the focus on characters, extraordinary music, and a fun combat system. It is a damn shame that Square Enix decided to kill every franchise they had except for Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts.
Taking a look at the new look Squaresoft, now known as Square Enix, it makes me wonder what went wrong? To fully understand why, let us rewind back to 1999 with the release of Chrono Cross. Talk about killing your own franchise. Chrono Cross was critically acclaimed, even more so than Chrono Trigger. The game was also presented as a direct sequel when it never was. Fans were not happy expecting the game to continue the journey of Crono and friends and a lot of fans still aren’t happy. Square did a huge injustice to this game by not supporting it properly. It also did not help that Final Fantasy 7 overshadowed everything else. How infuriating. In the early 2000s, Chrono Break was trademarked, but let’s be real here, it was never happening. Thus, an amazing franchise met a sad end.
Fast forward to 2005 with the release of Kingdom Hearts 2. The first Kingdom Hearts was an ambitious crossover that attempted to bring together Disney and Final Fantasy, something which sounds insane even today. It had a simple plot that showcased the powerful bond of friendship. Kingdom Hearts 2 grabbed that idea by the neck then dumped it into a sea of complicated plotlines and Final Fantasy nonsense. It also started a new trend for the series that to this day baffles me.
The opening moments of Kingdom Hearts 2 left players confused. Surely there must have been something in between the two games? Oh that’s right, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. For the Gameboy Advanced. It doesn’t end there, Birth by Sleep on the PSP, 358/2 Days on the Nintendo DS and Dream Drop Distance on the 3DS. Each game relevant to the story, each game on a different console. Then they overcompensated by making 4 HD collections. I don’t want to mention the mobile game, Kingdom Hearts Chi, but I will say, if you want to milk something, might as well do it dry.
Let’s jump to the PS3 generation, where we got the first HD Final Fantasy game, Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII is not a bad game. It earns the Final Fantasy name and received way too much unfair hate. But that’s as far as I will go. The two sequels were not needed at all. Not only did the games get worse with each release, but Square Enix’s desperation to force Lightning as their poster child was clear. The huge drop in sales numbers and review scores should have been a clear indication to finish Lightning’s story.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lighting Returns should have stayed in the brainstorming room. I understand, Final Fantasy makes a lot of money and people love to eat it up. But what happened to cultivating new ideas and intellectual property? Where are the new IPs that they used to make during the Squaresoft days? There is so much talent at Square Enix, but we will never get to see that if they only care about one or two franchises.
The downward spiral continues with Final Fantasy XV. This game is the physical embodiment of why hype culture is a detriment to video games. This game represents the core issues with modern day Square Enix. That being said, Final Fantasy XV itself did nothing wrong because it is a great game. It is the circumstances around it that leave me feeling concerned and slightly irritated.
Final Fantasy XV is more than just a game, it is a multimedia project unlike anything Square has done before. The last Final Fantasy game received a movie, animated specials, and mobile games was number 7, but that was several years after its release. For XV, these additions were part of the extravagant marketing campaign. The movie itself was a way to make a quick buck through sponsorships, most notably the Audi cars. These sponsors managed to find their way into the game as well through the cup noodles. I have nothing against games being sponsored by corporations. However, all it shows is a lack of focus.
Since when did the biggest RPG brand need a Hollywood level marketing campaign? This may sound naïve, but why can’t it be about the game? I understand the context may be slightly different, but just look at Persona 5. Look at how happy the fans are. Atlus didn’t need an expensive CGI movie and sponsorships from cars and noodles. They just made a good game, and guess what, people are satisfied. Rather than pushing the boundaries of marketing, they should have pushed the boundaries of gaming. That’s what Square used to be known for. Creating a new standard with each game they released.
Amidst all this chaos and confusion is Dragon Quest 11. And it looks fantastic. They aren’t going crazy with the advertisements because they don’t have to. People are going to buy it. All they really needed to do was announce a new Dragon Quest for PS4 and that would have been enough. The frequent development updates tell us that the game is coming along nicely and we will get to play it this decade. If they localize it that is. Given the reluctance of Square to localize these games immediately, it may be a while before we see Dragon Quest 11 outside of Japan.
At the end of the day, Square Enix is a business looking to maximise profit. They’ve been doing a pretty good job of it too recently with Final Fantasy XV, selling a lot of copies. I won’t stop believing that they still have the ability to make new and amazing experiences. I know that eventually, their desire to make something brand new will outweigh their current focus on the cash. Just look at how often they are updating Final Fantasy XIV and XV. The passion is still thriving, so all they have to do is make something new…and localize Dragon Quest while they’re doing that.